Published Thursday, March 12, 2009 | 1:21 p.m.
Updated Thursday, March 12, 2009 | 2:43 p.m.
The parents of a 3-year-old boy attacked in January by an 18-foot python snake appeared in court Thursday and said they will enter an Alford plea in Clark County District Court.
An Alford plea is a plea in which the defendant admits there is likely enough evidence for a conviction, but does not admit guilt.
Melissa Melendrez, 25, and her husband, Anthony Melendrez, 26, each were charged with one count of felony child abuse resulting in substantial bodily harm and a second charge of felony child neglect. As part of the plea, the charges will be reduced to a gross misdemeanor, said Kristina Wildeveld, the attorney for Melissa Melendrez.
During their court appearance today, they also waived their right to a preliminary hearing in Justice Court.
The parents opted to take the deal instead of going to trial because they didn't want their son to have to testify, said Vicki Greco, the attorney for Anthony Melendrez.
"She's the mother of two young children. Just the fact that she had to witness something like this happening to her child is punishment enough for her -- she has to live with that forever," Wildeveld said.
During the snake attack, the python wrapped itself around the toddler and began biting the child and constricting him, preventing the boy from breathing, police reports said. That is the normal method used by pythons to kill prey in the wild.
Police said Melissa Melendrez used a kitchen knife to free the child from the snake's grasp, but not before the boy suffered several open wounds from the python's bite.
Wildeveld said the boy's injuries were minor and were treated with Neosporin. She said the media had blown the case out of proportion.
"There's been another snake attack where it actually suffocated a 14-year-old girl -- no charges were brought. Several pit bull attacks in the last two years -- no charges have ever been brought. The media has misrepresented this," Greco said.
Reports from Child Protective Services listed it as an accident -- a pet attack, she said.
"Are they being made examples of? I understand the need to send a message, but these people got the message," Wildeveld said.
The python survived, but ultimately was euthanized by animal control authorities because of injuries suffered in the incident.
Other snakes and lizards found in the home on the day of the snake attack were turned over to Clark County Animal Control. They were the children's pets, Greco said.
The python was not a family pet; it was owned by Eden Gentlemen's Club Las Vegas. Anthony Melendrez was responsible for feeding it and cleaning its cage at the club, but the club was under renovation and the snake needed temporary housing during construction, Wildeveld said.
Dust from the construction work could have caused a respiratory disease in the snake, and pythons are sensitive to noise, so it needed to be housed elsewhere until construction was finished, attorneys said. The snake, whose name was Eve, had been in the Melendrez home for about a month because the family wasn't able to get in touch with its owner to return it, Wildeveld said.
She said Anthony and Melissa Melendrez made attempts to find other locations for the snake and were in the process of making arrangements for it to stay at a pet store before it got loose and attacked the toddler.
The fallout from the snake attack has been disastrous for the Melendrez family, their attorneys said. Although Anthony Melendrez is on disability and wasn't working at the time, his wife lost her job because of the pending felony charge and, because of the house arrest, hasn't been able to search for a new one, attorneys said.
"They've lost their home. They couldn't afford to pay their rent ... They've lost their medical insurance. So actually if you look at it, the children are in much worse condition than they were prior to this," Greco said.
The Melendrezes will appear in Clark County District Court on April 2 to enter their plea. The sentence could range from a $100 fine to a year in jail, their attorneys said.
As part of the deal, the state agreed not to recommend sentencing, so the sentence will be up to the presiding judge.